Saddam's American Jailer Goes on Trial

Human Rights

A former U.S. commander at the jail that held Saddam Hussein will face trial next week on charges of aiding the enemy by providing a cell phone to detainees and acting inappropriately with an interpreter, the military said Saturday.

Army Lt. Col. William H. Steele, a reservist from Prince George, Va., pleaded guilty on Oct. 7 to three of seven charges, which carry a maximum sentence of six years in prison, forfeiture of pay and dismissal from the Army, according to the military.

He will be tried on the remaining charges, including aiding the enemy by providing an unmonitored cell phone to prisoners, giving special privileges, acting inappropriately with an interpreter and failing to obey an order, the military said.

The military said Steele could face life in prison if convicted. Steele initially faced a possible death sentence, but the former acting commander general of U.S. forces in Iraq opted to make it a non-capital case, said military spokesman Lt. Col. Rudolph Burwell.

The trial, which has been delayed twice to give lawyers more time to prepare, is scheduled to start Monday.

The alleged incidents took place from October 2005 to February 2007, starting when Steele was commander of the 451st Military Police Detachment at Camp Cropper prison in Baghdad and in his later post as a senior patrol officer at nearby Camp Victory with the 89th Military Police Brigade.

During pretrial testimony in June, witnesses said Steele approved buying Cuban cigars for ousted leader Saddam Hussein, fraternized with a detainee's daughter and used his service pistol to intimidate tower guards. He has been behind bars in Kuwait since March.

Saddam was held at Camp Cropper until he was hanged by Iraqi authorities last December.

Steele originally faced nine charges, but prosecutors dismissed allegations connected to an inappropriate relationship with the daughter of a detainee and the improper spending of government money by buying comfort items, including cigars, for prisoners, Burwell said.

The only other U.S. officer known to have been accused of collaborating with the enemy since the start of the Iraq war was Capt. James J. Yee, a Muslim chaplain who was linked to a possible espionage ring at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, military prison.

He was eventually cleared and given an honorable discharge.

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